May 28, 2019
Dear Kaleb, my son. On 5 September 2017, I was asked to speak to over 100 teenager boys on the virtue of responsibility. I thought of you in each step. Love, Ma
Magandang hapon (good afternoon).
It is an honor to be here. And I do not say that casually or mechanically. You see, I am not a famous or influential person but in spite of that, I have had my share of public speaking moments. You are the youngest audience I have spoken so far. I am thankful for this privilege.
There is an Indian proverb, one of my most favorites lines which say, “Tell me a fact, and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth, and I’ll believe, but tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”
Responsibility is a long word, heavy with meaning. How many of you like responsibilities?
This explains why education is not only important but it is lifesaving. When I was an elementary student, this proverb figured prominently in our hallway:
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
One thing for sure, the number and extent of responsibilities is directly proportional with one’s age.
What does this mean then? How old are you? Does this mean, least is expected of you when it comes to responsibilities?
In 2011, I attended a conference in Lithuania. Amidst an energy-filled room of young idealists and activists, and as the speakers approached the stage and started to settle in, I noticed that one of the chairs among the panelists was empty even as the session was about to start. The moderator spoke and explained that the young man was not permitted by his government to leave the country and attend the conference. He sent a copy of his speech which the moderator read. Amidst the lines, what struck me the most was when this young man quoted St. Paul:
“Don’t let anyone belittle you because you are young. Instead, show the faithful, young and old, an example of how to live: set the standard for how to talk, act, love, and be faithful and pure.” 1 Timothy 4:12
Even when you are young, you can be responsible. You can be trustworthy.
Three years ago, I delivered a speech to University of the Philippines Mindanao graduates. I asked:
Biologists say that our bodies are made of cells. I am in the vast field of communication arts: I infer that our bodies are made up of stories.
What stories are you made of? Are you made up of cheerful stories: a close-knit family, a supportive and enabling environment or a loving and caring home? Are you made up of stories of sadness: a broken family, bouts with poverty, endless financial obligations or moments of rejection? Or could it be a combination of different stories: a hodgepodge of moments and memories?
I am asking the same questions again because as a former young person myself, I understand how these stories influence our perception and acceptance of responsibilities.
When I was in my early 20s, I managed a government-funded scholarship program of over 3,000 students in the province of Bukidnon, Northern Mindanao. Majority of these students come from poverty-stricken agricultural communities. The 2,500Ph to 5,000Php scholarship grant per semester was a HUGE deal for them and their families.
While I have personally experienced how discomfort, pain, and difficulties could affect one’s willingness to take on responsibilities (how some young people would shy away, dismiss, or run away from responsibilities), I have personally seen how even in the absence of a support system, these scholars have risen from negative experiences and have become more open to responsibilities. Thus, becoming leaders.
Responsibilities are often associated with leadership. As I have grown older, I have realized that leaders come in different forms. I was raised by a single parent who did not have the education and support system to provide us comfort. But what my mother trained us is this – selflessness, prayerfulness, simplicity, humility, and unconditional love. Even with a broken heart, she woke up each day with grace and provided food on the table so we could go to school with dignity. There were few, limited words. But there was a multitude of actions which to this day inspire me to become responsible. My mother modeled responsibility. For that, she is a leader to me.
J.K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter wrote “it is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” May you find leaders who will inspire you to become better because in the end responsibilities boil down to choice, not abilities.